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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 81

Sermon 81 on the New Testament

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[CXXXI. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, John 6:53 , Unless you eat the flesh, etc., and on the words of the apostles. And the Psalms. Against the Pelagians.

Delivered at the Table of the Martyr St. Cyprian, the 9th of the Calends of October —23 Sept., on the Lord's day.

1. We have heard the True Master, the Divine Redeemer, the human Saviour, commending to us our Ransom, His Blood. For He spoke to us of His Body and Blood; He called His Body Meat, His Blood Drink. The faithful recognise the Sacrament of the faithful. But the hearers what else do they but hear? When therefore commending such Meat and such Drink He said, Unless you shall eat My Flesh and drink My Blood, you shall have no life in you; (and this that He said concerning life, who else said it but the Life Itself? But that man shall have death, not life, who shall think that the Life is false), His disciples were offended, not all of them indeed, but very many, saying within themselves, This is an hard saying, who can hear it? But when the Lord knew this in Himself, and heard the murmurings of their thought, He answered them, thinking though uttering nothing, that they might understand that they were heard, and might cease to entertain such thoughts. What then did He answer? Does this offend you? What then if you shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before? What means this? Does this offend you? Do ye imagine that I am about to make divisions of this My Body which you see; and to cut up My Members, and give them to you? 'What then if you shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?' Assuredly, He who could ascend Whole could not be consumed. So then He both gave us of His Body and Blood a healthful refreshment, and briefly solved so great a question as to His Own Entireness. Let them then who eat, eat on, and them that drink, drink; let them hunger and thirst; eat Life, drink Life. That eating, is to be refreshed; but you are in such wise refreshed, as that that whereby you are refreshed, fails not. That drinking, what is it but to live? Eat Life, drink Life; you shall have life, and the Life is Entire. But then this shall be, that is, the Body and the Blood of Christ shall be each man's Life; if what is taken in the Sacrament visibly is in the truth itself eaten spiritually, drunk spiritually. For we have heard the Lord Himself saying, It is the Spirit That quickens, but the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken unto you, are Spirit and Life. But there are some of you, says He, that believe not. Such were they who said, This is a hard saying, who can hear it? It is hard, but only to the hard; that is, it is incredible, but only to the incredulous.

2. But in order to teach us that this very believing is matter of gift, not of desert, He says, As I have said to you, no man comes unto Me, except it were given him of My Father. Now as to where the Lord said this, if we call to mind the foregoing words of the Gospel, we shall find that He had said, No man comes unto Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him. He did not lead, but draw. This violence is done to the heart, not the body. Why then do you marvel? Believe, and you come; love, and you are drawn. Do not suppose here any rough and uneasy violence; it is gentle, it is sweet; it is the very sweetness that draws you. Is not a sheep drawn, when fresh grass is shown to it in its hunger? Yet I imagine that it is not bodily driven on, but fast bound by desire. In such wise do you come too to Christ; do not conceive of long journeyings; where you believe, there you come. For unto Him, who is everywhere we come by love, not by sailing. But forasmuch as even in this kind of voyage, waves and tempests of various temptations abound; believe in the Crucified; that your faith may be able to ascend the Wood. You shall not sink, but shall be borne upon the Wood. Thus, even thus, amid the waves of this world did he sail, who said, But God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

3. But wonderful it is, that when Christ Crucified is preached, two hear, one despises, the other ascends. Let him that despises, impute it to himself; let not him that ascends, arrogate it to himself. For he has heard from the True Master; No man comes unto Me, except it were given unto him of My Father. Let him joy, that it has been given; let him render thanks to Him who gives it, with a humble, not an arrogant heart; lest what he has attained through humility, he lose through pride. For even they who are already walking in this way of righteousness, if they attribute it to themselves, and to their own strength, perish out of it. And therefore Holy Scripture teaching us humility says by the Apostle, Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. And lest hereupon they should attribute ought to themselves, because he said, Work, he subjoined immediately, For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. It is God who works in you; therefore with fear and trembling, make a valley, receive the rain. Low grounds are filled, high grounds are dried up. Grace is rain. Why do you marvel then, if God resist the proud, and gives grace unto the lowly? Therefore, with fear and trembling; that is, with humility. Be not high-minded, but fear. Fear that you may be filled; be not high-minded, lest you be dried up.

4. But you will say, I am walking in this way already; once there was need for me to learn, there was need for me to know by the teaching of the law what I had to do: now I have the free choice of the will; who shall withdraw me from this way? If you read carefully, you will find that a certain man began to uplift himself, on a certain abundance of his, which he had nevertheless received; but that the Lord in mercy, to teach him humility, took away what He had given; and he was on a sudden reduced to poverty, and confessing the mercy of God in his recollection, he said, In my abundance I said, I shall never be moved. In my abundance I said. But I said it, I who am a man said it; All men are liars, I said. Therefore, in my abundance I said; so great was the abundance, that I dared to say, I shall never be moved. What next? O Lord, in Your favour You gave strength to my beauty. But You turned away Your Face from me, and I was troubled. You have shown me, says he, that that wherein I did abound, was of You. You have shown me Whence I should seek, to Whom attribute what I had received, to Whom I ought to render thanks, to Whom I should run in my thirst, Whereby be filled, and with Whom keep that whereby I should be filled. 'For my strength will I keep to You;' whereby I am by Your bounty filled, through Your safe keeping I will not lose. 'My strength will I keep to You.' That You might show me this, 'You turned away Your Face from me, and I was troubled.' 'Troubled,' because dried up; dried up, because exalted. Say then you dry and parched one, that you may be filled again; 'My soul is as earth without water unto You.' Say, 'My soul is as earth without water unto You.' For You have said, not the Lord, 'I shall never be moved.' You have said it, presuming on your own strength; but it was not of yourself, and you thought as if it were.

5. What then does the Lord say? Serve ye the Lord in fear, and rejoice unto Him with trembling. So the Apostle too, Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you. Therefore rejoice with trembling: Lest at any time the Lord be angry. I see that you anticipate me by your crying out. For you know what I am about to say, you anticipate it by crying out. And whence have ye this, but that He taught you to whom you have by believing come? This then He says; hear what ye know already; I am not teaching, but in preaching am calling to your remembrance; nay, I am neither teaching, seeing that you know already, nor calling to remembrance, seeing that you remember, but let us say all together what together with us ye retain. Embrace discipline, and rejoice, but, with trembling, that, humble ye may ever hold fast that which you have received. Lest at any time the Lord be angry; with the proud of course, attributing to themselves what they have, not rendering thanks to Him, from whom they have. Lest at any time the Lord be angry, and you perish from the righteous way. Did he say, Lest at any time the Lord be angry, and you come not into the righteous way? Did he say, Lest the Lord be angry, and He bring you not to the righteous way? Or admit you not into the righteous way? You are walking in it already, be not proud, lest ye even perish from it. 'And ye perish,' says he, 'from the righteous way.' When His wrath shall be kindled in a short time against you. At no distant time. As soon as you are proud, you lose at once what you had received. As though man terrified by all this were to say, What shall I do then? It follows, Blessed are all they that trust in Him: not in themselves, but in Him. By grace are we saved, not of ourselves, but it is the gift of God.

6. Peradventure you are saying, What does he mean, that he is so often saying this? A second and a third time he says it; and scarcely ever speaks, but when he says it. Would that I may not say it in vain! For men there are unthankful to grace, attributing much to poor and disabled nature. True it is, when man was created he received great power of free-will; but he lost it by sin. He fell into death, became infirm, was left in the way by the robbers half dead; the Samaritan, which is by interpretation keeper, passing by lifted him up on his own beast; he is still being brought to the inn. Why is he lifted up? He is still in process of curing. But, he will say, it is enough for me that in baptism I received remission of all sins. Because iniquity was blotted out, was therefore infirmity brought to an end? I received, says he, remission of all sins. It is quite true. All sins were blotted out in the Sacrament of Baptism, all entirely, of words, deeds, thoughts, all were blotted out. But this is the oil and wine which was poured in by the way. You remember, beloved Brethren, that man who was wounded by the robbers, and half dead by the way, how he was strengthened, by receiving oil and wine for his wounds. His error indeed was already pardoned, and yet his weakness is in process of healing in the inn. The inn, if you recognise it, is the Church. In the time present, an inn, because in life we are passing by: it will be a home, whence we shall never remove, when we shall have got in perfect health unto the kingdom of heaven. Meanwhile receive we gladly our treatment in the inn, and weak as we still are, glory we not of sound health: lest through our pride we gain nothing else, but never for all our treatment to be cured.

7. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Say, yea say to your soul, You are still in this life, still bearest about a frail flesh, still does the corruptible body press down the soul; still after the entireness of remission have you received the remedy of prayer; for still, while your weaknesses are being healed, do you say, Forgive us our debts. Say then to your soul, you lowly valley, not an exalted hill; say to your soul, Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. What benefits? Tell them, enumerate them, render thanks. What benefits? Who forgives all your iniquities. This took place in baptism. What takes place now? Who heals all your weaknesses. This takes place now; I acknowledge. But as long as I am here, the corruptible body presses down the soul. Say then also that which comes next, Who redeems your life from corruption. After redemption from corruption, what remains? When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your contention? There rightly, O death, where is your sting? You seek its place, and findest it not. What is the sting of death? What is, O death, where is your sting? Where is sin? You seek, and it is nowhere. For the sting of death is sin. They are the Apostle's words, not mine. Then shall it be said, O death, where is your sting? Sin shall nowhere be, neither to surprise you, nor to assault you, nor to inflame your conscience. Then it shall not be said, Forgive us our debts. But what shall be said? O Lord our God, give us peace: for You have rendered all things unto us.

8. Finally, after the redemption from all corruption, what remains but the crown of righteousness? This at least remains, but even in it, or under it, let not the head be swollen that it may receive the crown. Hear, mark well the Psalm, how that crown will not have a swollen head. After he had said, Who redeems your life from corruption; he says, Who crowns you. Here you were ready at once to say, 'Crowns you,' is an acknowledgment of my merits, my own excellence has done it; it is the payment of a debt, not a gift. Give ear rather to the Psalm. For it is you again that sayest this; and all men are liars. Hear what God says; Who crowns you with mercy and pity. Of His mercy He crowns you, of His pity He crowns you. For you had no worthiness that He should call you, and being called should justify you, being justified glorify you. The remnant is saved by the election of grace. But if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. For to him that works, the reward shall not be reckoned according to grace, but according to debt. The Apostle says, Not according to grace, but according to debt. But you He crowns with pity and mercy; and if your own merits have gone before, God says to you, Examine well your merits, and you shall see that they are My gifts.

9. This then is the righteousness of God. As it is called, The Lord's salvation, not whereby the Lord is saved, but which He gives to them whom He saves; so too the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord is called the righteousness of God, not as that whereby the Lord is righteous, but whereby He justifies those whom of ungodly He makes righteous. But some, as the Jews in former times, both wish to be called Christians, and still ignorant of God's righteousness, desire to establish their own, even in our own times, in the times of open grace, the times of the full revelation of grace which before was hidden; in the times of grace now manifested in the floor, which once lay hid in the fleece. I see that a few have understood me, that more have not understood, whom I will by no means defraud by keeping silence. Gideon, one of the righteous men of old, asked for a sign from the Lord, and said, I pray, Lord, that this fleece which I put in the floor be bedewed, and that the floor be dry. And it was so; the fleece was bedewed, the whole floor was dry. In the morning he wrung out the fleece in a basin; forasmuch as to the humble is grace given; and in a basin, you know what the Lord did to His disciples. Again, he asked for another sign; O Lord, I would, says he, that the fleece be dry, the floor bedewed. And it was so. Call to mind the time of the Old Testament, grace was hidden in a cloud, as the rain in the fleece. Mark now the time of the New Testament, consider well the nation of the Jews, you will find it as a dry fleece; whereas the whole world, like that floor, is full of grace, not hidden, but manifested. Wherefore we are forced exceedingly to bewail our brethren, who strive not against hidden, but against open and manifested grace. There is allowance for the Jews. What shall we say of Christians? Wherefore are you enemies to the grace of Christ? Why rely ye on yourselves? Why unthankful? For why did Christ come? Was not nature here before? Was not nature here, which you only deceive by your excessive praise? Was not the Law here? But the Apostle says, If righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain. What the Apostle says of the Law, that say we of nature to these men. If righteousness come by nature, then Christ is dead in vain.

10. What then was said of the Jews, the same altogether do we see in these men now. They have a zeal of God: I hear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. What is, not according to knowledge? For being ignorant of God's righteousness, and wishing to establish their own, they have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. My Brethren, share with me in my sorrow. When ye find such as these, do not hide them; be there no such misdirected mercy in you; by all means, when you find such, hide them not. Convince the gainsayers, and those who resist, bring to us. For already have two councils on this question been sent to the Apostolic see; and rescripts also have come from thence. The question has been brought to an issue; would that their error may sometime be brought to an issue too! Therefore do we advise that they may take heed, we teach that they may be instructed, we pray that they may be changed. Let us turn to the Lord, etc.

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Source. Translated by R.G. MacMullen. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.

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